The race for the District 6 seat on the Palm Beach County Commission features three candidates, all with unique attributes. The Democratic nominee is Melissa McKinlay, who has worked numerous governmental posts and is currently with Palm Beach County’s legislative affairs office. The Republican nominee is local businessman Andrew Schaller, who has made a name for himself as a frequent critic of the Palm Beach County Commission. Also in the race is independent candidate Michelle Santamaria, an attorney and businesswoman running to build on the corruption-fighting legacy of her father, County Commissioner Jess Santamaria, who is vacating the post due to term limits.
As we pointed out during the primary election, Melissa McKinlay has an impressive resume that spans many levels of government: local, county, state and national. She also has a reasonable command of the issues and a strong network of supporters. Some of those supporters are concerning, however, as they include a number of West Palm Beach officials who have long stood in the way of projects crucial to the needs of residents here in the western communities. McKinlay’s dedication toward protecting women, children and the disadvantaged, especially through her volunteer work, is admirable and heartfelt. Her focus on bringing county help to the Glades, communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked, is a definite issue that whoever wins the seat will have to tackle. While she has deep connections in county and state government, her connections to the western communities are not nearly as firmly rooted.
Andrew Schaller is a business owner who runs a successful electronic banking firm and a horse farm. He has long been a critic of county government, starting with issues near his home and branching out into fiscal policy, road issues and even how meetings are run. He has famously had numerous run-ins with the incumbent, Jess Santamaria. Suffice it say, they’re not friends. Schaller’s understanding of the issues, the key players and county government is strong. His business experience clearly shows he can manage money. However, his political experience is limited beyond being known as a frequent county government gadfly.
With a law degree and a master’s degree in business administration, Michelle Santamaria has extensive legal and business expertise, a proven track record of accomplishing goals and an innovative, thinking-outside-the-box attitude. With personal access to the outgoing commissioner, she is ahead of the game in learning the dynamics that emerge behind closed doors. With a unique outlook, she has placed careful emphasis on her stances, differentiating herself from her father. For example, while her father ran for office as a Democrat, she stuck to her principles and is running as an independent, rather than under the safety and support of a political party. While this puts her at a disadvantage, it has allowed her to seek the seat not beholden to special interests, racking up a varied collection of supporters from across the political spectrum. Santamaria’s educational background makes her particularly good at analyzing tough issues. She is independent, yet with enough finesse and natural public speaking skills to be able to get others to be willing to hear and evaluate what she has to say.
In reality, the most surprising thing about this race is how narrow the field has been. A number of high-powered, current elected officials stayed on the sidelines, leaving the field open to three candidates who have never held elected office. However, it’s not often in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere that voters have a chance to choose an independent-thinking, highly skilled candidate who isn’t controlled by a political party, yet still has a chance to win. In this year’s county commission race, that candidate is Michelle Santamaria. In this limited field of candidates, she is clearly the best choice.
The Town-Crier endorses independent candidate Michelle Santamaria for Palm Beach County Commission in District 6.
Midterm elections always feature lower turnout than presidential election years. That is too bad. Democracy functions best when more people vote. No matter whether your opinions on this race differ from ours, be sure to get to the polls — either through early voting or on election day — and make your voice heard.